Disparities in School Referrals for Agitation and Aggression to the Emergency Department

Published:November 12, 2021DOI:



      Describe the demographic and clinical characteristics of children presenting to the emergency department (ED) for agitation and aggression from school versus other sites.


      We performed a retrospective cross-sectional study of children 5 to 18 years old who were evaluated in an urban tertiary care pediatric ED with a chief complaint of agitation or aggression. We examined demographics, disposition, and payments for children presenting from school versus other sites. We conducted multivariable logistic regression to identify predictors of referral site (school versus all other sites, school versus home) and discharge status (home versus higher level of psychiatric care).


      Of the 513 included children, 147 (29%) presented from school. Children were more likely to present from school versus other sites if they were Black (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 2.26, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.32, 3.88), Latinx (aOR 2.91, 95% CI 1.42, 5.97), or had special educational needs (aOR 2.55, 95% CI 1.64, 3.97). These associations persisted in the analysis of school versus home referrals. Children presenting from school versus all other sites were more likely to be discharged home (aOR 1.60, 95% CI 1.05, 2.44), although this difference did not persist when comparing school versus only home referral. A total of $154,269 (median $367 per encounter) was paid for school referrals to the ED.


      Children with agitation and aggression referred from school were more likely to be Black, Latinx, or have special educational needs. Future efforts should identify and address root causes of this disparity to decrease ED referrals, reduce healthcare spending, and address inequities.


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